Perhaps orders are down, in-store traffic has hardly rebounded, revenues are frustratingly slow to return and employee spirits are in the tank as well.
When customers go away and don’t come back, business owners and CEOs are left to scratch their heads as they try to figure out why. A probable culprit is that the business failed to maintain authentic customer and employee connections while implementing the latest communication technologies that have pushed relational interactions outside of the reality of their consumer’s experience, says Phil Kelley Jr., author of Presence and Profitability: Understanding the Value of Authentic Communications in the Age of Hyper-Connectivity.
“Technology is rapidly changing the way people exchange information and ideas leading to tremendous efficiency opportunities, but no matter how much technology changes things, people have the same psychological need for positive human interactions,” says Kelley, who is president and CEO of Salem One, a company that specializes in direct marketing, packaging, printing and logistics.
If customers feel that they are not getting that interaction, he says, they are going to move to another business in search of it.
As businesses move into 2022, Kelley has advice for how they can bring back customers they have lost because of both external and internal communication misfires:
- Customers want to talk with people, not machines. Kelley is wary of technology that cuts costs but fails to take the customer experience into account. ”Anyone at my company will tell you that I have a passion for answering phones as quickly as possible,” he says. “I absolutely refuse to use an automated call-response application. I know that if a client is calling us, they need something and want to talk to a person, not a machine.”
- Relationships are built on true relational moments. Racking up “likes” on Facebook or Twitter, or sending and receiving canned sales pitches on LinkedIn, are not examples of really connecting with others, Kelley says. “Relationships don’t get built automatically, and leadership does not get conveyed by the number of keystrokes you make,” he says. “Success is based on the value you bring to the table, and comes only after investments of time and effort. A connection in and of itself is not a relationship, and for most people connections are missed opportunities.”
- Brand communication should meet customers on their terms. Businesses often fail to get the most out of their advertising because the connection to the customer is off in some way, Kelley says. He gives as an example how online advertisements often work. If someone searches for a product, they soon see advertisements for that product on nearly every website they visit, even if the website isn’t appropriate for the brand. That can become annoying. “You need to know where your brand is showing up, and what kind of customers and potential customers your brand is in front of at all times,” Kelley says. “You also need to know who those customers are, what their tastes and preferences are, and how they do and don’t like to experience things.”
- Connect in a way that turns customers into repeat customers. Long-term success depends on repeat customers, but too many businesses treat their relationship with customers as simply transactional, Kelley says. That doesn’t make for a satisfying relationship. “The highest-value communications are person-to-person, but that certainly doesn’t mean that your company can’t make a connection without those face-to-face communications,” he says. “Amazon is masterful at forging relationships with its customers just via their website. They do it by making it easy to find, order, and have delivered things that people really need or want. They make it easy to find more information on the products and make it easy to return something the customer isn’t satisfied with.”
- Know that a great corporate culture results in satisfied customers. It’s well-established that an organizational culture where people feel engaged, connected and purposeful helps achieve financial success, Kelley says. “This is because the attitudes of the people in an organization ultimately reach and affect customers,” he says. “To put it simply, satisfied employees tend to foster satisfied customers. So, the time and energy you devote to creating a positive corporate culture is not an add-on to getting the job done. It’s an essential part of getting the job done – or at least, getting it done well.”
“Relationships are so important to people,” Kelley says, “that any company that makes a real connection with a customer can win that customer’s loyalty for life.”
Phil Kelley Jr. is the author of Presence and Profitability: Understanding the Value of Authentic Communications in the Age of Hyper-Connectivity. He also is president and CEO of Salem One, which specializes in direct marketing, packaging, printing and logistics. Kelley holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial and systems engineering from Georgia Tech as well as an MBA from Clemson University. He has served on the boards of directors of multiple nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Kelley has been an active voice in the print industry, refocusing industry success definitions within the rapidly developing world of corporate communications.